Time to consolidate law school law libraries?

I vividly remember my first class on legal research – in a time before there was a usable internet.  The instructors wheeled in a book cart overloaded with numerous books that we would need to use in future legal research projects, including: case reporters from the many different court systems; digests, statute books; codes; pocket parts; legal encyclopedias; examples of loose-leaf materials;  and so on.  At that point it seemed to me that perhaps becoming a lawyer was beyond me.  Fortunately, I was soon an expert after a summer clerkship at a law firm that was predominantly spent doing book research in a nearby state law library.

Back then, which was not so long ago, a law library was an essential tool for legal research.  Perhaps that is not the case anymore – especially for those law libraries that do not employ true law librarians (who can be an incredibly useful part of a research strategy – but who, especially outside the United States where ABA rules require them, are increasingly scarce or even non-existent in law school law libraries).

While I do not agree completely with the recent title of an interesting blog post on electronic research (“Libraries are for Hobos: New Resources for Legal Research“), I  suspect that if there were no comfortable study places in our law school libraries, those libraries would be empty with hardly any foot traffic.  Thus, I have for a while felt that it is time to consider changing the relationship between law schools and their law libraries.

Just as we would think it highly inefficient for each law school to maintain its own text searchable legal databases (like Westlaw), so too it is now inefficient for law schools to maintain their own law libraries.  Instead, the law schools within a city or region should  consolidate their collections together, in the process reducing unnecessary duplication.  That consolidated collection could be stored in a suitable warehouse.  The consolidated library books could then be electronically identified and ordered as needed by students or academics from participating law schools and then brought to a central collection point in their law school, perhaps such distributions taking place one or more times each day.  Students and academic staff could electronically search and browse the warehouse bookshelves, even delving into the table of contents of specific books (that technology already exists and is used in some libraries).

Current library space within law schools could then be more efficiently reconfigured to become dedicated study space or additional classroom space.  Perhaps an office for a resident law librarian or research specialist could still be maintained within each law school (though I suspect they would be hardly used given how people today conduct their research). A consolidated library would have greater purchasing power, holding a larger more varied collection. It could employ true law librarians to manage the collection policies and strategies. It could be funded by equitable arrangements, such as an annual fee per student/academic within each law school or per average use for each law school. Local law firms and government offices  could even participate, further helping to defray costs and making their own research more efficient.

True, those that like to stroll library aisles would be unhappy, but I suspect that enjoyable research technique is increasingly rare today and would be offset by the benefits of a consolidated law library: with access to a larger collection;  resource savings for the law school that could be directed towards research support; the chance to hold more classes within a law building with library space converted to classrooms; and so on.

Such a change would be a radical departure from how things are and have been, but the reality is that students and younger academics increasingly do their research electronically, which does not require them to physically enter a law school’s library.  Of course, consolidating law school libraries would need vision and cooperation from law schools, but after the first few regions entered into such a beneficial arrangement I am confident it would be replicated in those jurisdictions not subject to antiquated and restrictive rules (such as those imposed by the ABA on American law schools).

Colin B. Picker


Is the Priestley 11 on the chopping block?

The Law Admissions Consultative Commission has recently released a discussion paper  Review of Academic Requirements for Admission to the Legal Profession in which they propose to conduct a ‘limited review’ of the Priestley 11 Academic Requirements for Admission.  They are calling for submissions on the following questions by 31 March:

6.1 Should any or all of the following areas of knowledge be omitted from the Academic Requirements:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Company Law
  • Evidence
  • Ethics and Professional Responsibility?

6.2 If so, why?
6.3 Should Statutory Interpretation be included as an Academic Requirement?
6.4 Is any other area of knowledge, not presently included in the Academic Requirements, now of such basic potential importance to the great majority of practitioners today, that no law graduate should be permitted to practise without it?
6.5 If so, should any such area be added to the Academic Requirements?
6.6 Should the drafting technique used in the Academic Requirements be amended in any way?
6.7 If so, how?
6.8 In the light of the development of the TLOs, should the Academic Requirements be altered or supplemented also to take account of intellectual skills and personal attributes necessary to process and deploy the areas of knowledge prescribed by the Academic Requirements in legal practice?
6.9 How might the Academic Requirements be altered or supplemented to resolve some or all of the problems of consistency of standards referred to above; and, in particular,
6.10 How might the Academic Requirements be altered or supplemented to ensure that appropriate and consistent assessment regimes exist to certify that each successful student has demonstrated the common required knowledge and skills in each Academic Requirement to a common minimum standard?

That should be enough to keep everyone busy over Christmas …

In particular questions 6.3 and 6.10 seem to be deep seated concerns of LACC.  The two key questions not asked are, “How much can reasonably be expected of a university legal education in 2014?” and “What is the purpose of a university legal education?”

Kate Galloway has already posted a detailed blog responding to the issues it raises http://katgallow.blogspot.com.au/2014/12/changing-academic-requirements-for.html

There is likely to be a lot to say.

Alex Steel

New UNSW Curriculum launched by Chief Justice

As we all approach the end of the year and inevitably wonder how we could do things better, differently or whether any change is possible, the story of the UNSW curriculum review might be of interest.

In 2013, UNSW Law introduced major changes to the LLB and JD programs following a two year process of curriculum review.  The main features of the new curriculum and the process of undertaking the review are outlined in a comprehensive report: Curriculum Review: Designing an International, Experiential, Research-Focused, Curriculum for a C21 Law School

The report was launched by the Chief Justice of Australia, Robert French AO in October with a speech entitled Curriculum Change – A Multidimensional Task, Curriculum Review at the Law School of the University of New South Wales.

French CJ in his remarks makes a number of important points about the issues with designing law curricula, including the following affirmation of what we are doing as academics:

“The fact is curriculum design is a battlefield in any area of education and acutely so in the field of legal education. The battlefield is populated by articulate, passionate and persuasive proponents of different and sometimes conflicting visions of what law schools should be for and what they should do. Nevertheless, the question of purpose in legal education, which has been called strikingly by one writer, ‘the lost question’, must be asked. It has been asked in the course of this review. Law schools are not there simply to make money for their universities or to enhance institutional prestige. Any institution worthy of designation as a university must seek higher societal purposes. Harold Koh, formerly Dean of Yale Law School, emphasised the moral dimension of legal education when he said in 2006:

I do not believe it is our job to simply bless the status quo. We stand for principles about what the rule of law ought to be. As a law dean, I think that law schools are not just professional schools. They are institutions of moral purpose. We must speak up for the rule of law when someone is threatening it, because if we don’t, who will?

Of course, moral purpose is of little avail if its proponents are not equipped with the practical tools to give effect to it. The redesigned curriculum seeks to engage with the doctrinal and theoretical, the ethical and the experiential dimensions of legal practice, in an integrated way.”


Alex Steel

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